sewu temple

Sewu Temple

Sewu is an 8th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple located 800 meters north of Prambanan in Central Java. Candi Sewu is actually the second largest Buddhist Temple in Indonesia after Borobudur. Candi Sewu predates nearby “Loro Jonggrang” temple. Although originally only around 249 temples are present, the name in Javanese translates to ‘a thousand temples,’ which originated from popular local folklore; The Legend of Loro Jonggrang. The original name of this temple compound is probably Manjusrigrha.

According to the Kelurak inscription (dated from 782 CE) and Manjusrigrha inscription (dated from 792 CE), which was found in 1960, the original name of the temple complex was probably “Manjusri grha” (The House of Manjusri). Manjusri is a Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhist teaching symbolizing the “Gentle Glory” of transcendent wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā). Sewu Temple was built by the end of 8th century at the end of Rakai Panangkaran’s reign and completed during the reign his successor King Indra. Rakai Panangkaran (746—780 CE) was famous as a devoted Mahayana Buddhist King that ruled the Medang Mataram Kingdom.

The Manjusrigrha temple was the largest Buddhist temple built in Prambanan Plain region, predates the nearby Prambanan Shivaist temple by over 70 years, and predates Borobudur for about 37 years. Located in the heartland of Mataram, the temple was the royal Buddhist temple of the kingdom that regularly held stately religious ceremonies. The Manjusrigrha inscription (792) praised the perfect beauty of the prasada (tower) of this temple compound. The Bubrah temple located about several hundred meters south and the Gana temple located east from Sewu temple are probably served as guardian temples of Manjusrigrha complex, guarding four cardinal directions of Sewu temple. There are ruins of Lor temple in the north and Kulon temple in the west side of Sewu temple, all in poor condition as there was only few remains of stones left. All these temples are located at almost same distance from the main temple of Sewu. Prior to the construction of Borobudur and Prambanan, this temple probably served as kingdom’s main temple. The temples are arranged in mandala lay out, symbolyzing universe in Buddhist cosmology.

The temple was probably expanded and completed during Rakai Pikatan’s rule, a prince whom married to a Buddhist princess of Sailendra dynasty, Pramodhawardhani. Most of his subjects retained their old religion after the court returned to favour Hinduism. The proximity of the temple to Prambanan Temple, which is a Hindu Temple, suggests that the Hindus and Buddhist lived in harmony in the era that the temples were built. The scale of the temple complex suggests Candi Sewu was a Royal Buddhist Temple and was an important religious site of the past. The temple is located on the Prambanan Plain, that is between the southern eastern slopes of Merapi volcano and the Sewu mountain range in the south, near the present border of the Yogyakarta province and Klaten Regency, in Central Java. The plain houses many archaeological sites scattered only a few miles away, suggesting that this area was an important religious, political, and urban center.

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Although buried deep beneath the volcanic debris around Mount Merapi, the temple was not completely forgotten. The Javanese locals in the surrounding villages were aware about the temple ruins before formal rediscovery, but they did not know about its origin and historical background. As a result, they developed tales and legends to explain the origin of temples, infused with myths of giants, and a cursed princess. They gave Prambanan and Sewu a supernatural origin; they were said in the Loro Jonggrang legend to have been created by a multitude of demons under the order of Bandung Bondowoso. During that time the locals did not dare to took the temple stones as they believed that the ruin was haunted.

The Sewu and Prambanan temple attracted international attention in early 19th century during the colonial Dutch East Indies era. In 1807 a first lithograph of Candi Sewu main temple and Perwara temple was created by H.C. Cornelius. In 1817 during Britain’s short-lived rule of the Dutch East Indies, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles included Cornelius’ image of Candi Sewu in his book The History of Java. Although Sir Thomas subsequently commissioned a full survey of the ruins, they remained neglected for decades. In 1825 Auguste Payen created a series of Candi Sewu images. The temple suffered the Java War (1825–1830) as temple’s stones were used away for fortification. For subsequent years the temples suffered looting, many of Buddhas’ heads were decapitated and stolen, some Dutch colonial residents carried off sculptures as garden ornaments and native villagers used the foundation stones for construction material. Some of the temple’s best preserved bas-reliefs, Buddha’s head, and ornaments were carried away from the site and ended up in museums or private collections abroad.

In 1867 Van Kinsbergen took some photographs of Candi Sewu, after an earthquake had caused the dome in main temple collapsed. In 1885 J. W. Ijzerman made some correction on the plan made earlier by Cornelius and made some notes about temple’s and statues’ condition, and noticed that several Buddha’s head were missing and had been looted, by 1978 none of Buddha’s head were survived in the site as all of them has been looted completely.

In 1901 a new set of photographs was taken, sponsored by Leydie Melville. In 1908 Van Erp initiated the clearing and reconstruction of the main temple. In 1915 H. Maclaine Pont drew the reconstruction of a temples of second row. It was de Haan that reconstructed the perwara temples with aid of Van Kinsbergen photographs. Subsequently the temple become the subject of study among archaeologist, such as J. Krom in 1923 and W. F. Stutterheim. In 1950 J.G. de Casparis also studied the temple. Most of them thought that the temple was built in the first half of 9th century. However, in 1960 an inscription was discovered in perwara temple number 202 dated 792, which concluded that the temple was constructed earlier, in late 8th century. Later in 1981, Jacques Dumarçay conducted a thorough research of the temple.

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The temple complex is the largest Buddhist compound in the Prambanan area, with rectangular grounds that measure 185 meter north-south and 165 meter east-west. The entrance is found on all four cardinal points, however judging from the layout of the temple complex, the main entrance is located on the east side. Each of the entrances were guarded by twin Dvarapala statues. This large guardian statues have been better preserved and replicas can be found at Jogja Kraton. There are a total of 249 buildings in the complex arranged in a Mandala pattern around the central main hall as an expression of the view of the universe of Mahayana Buddhism. The smaller temples are called Perwara (guardian) temples, consist of 240 temples with similar design and arranged in four rectangular concentric rows. Two outer rows are arranged closer and consists of 168 smaller temples, while two inner rows are arranged in certain interval and consist of 72 temples than the outer ones. The 249 temples that are located in the second precinct all were made with a square frame but varied by different statues and orientations. Many of these statues are now gone and the arrangements on the current site are not in the original orientations. The statues are comparable to the statues of Borobudur and were likely made of bronze.

Along the north-south and east-west central axis at a distance of about 200 meter, between 2nd and 3rd row of smaller temple are located the apit (flank) temples, a couple on each cardinal points facing each other. The apit temples are the second largest ones after the main temple, however only eastern twin apit and a northern one still remains today. These smaller temples encompass a larger sanctuary that has been heavily looted.

Behind the 4th row of smaller temples lies the stone paved courtyard where the main temple stood on the center.

Since early 20th century temple has been slowly and carefully reconstructed for decades, and until now it has not been completely restored as there are hundreds of temple ruins and many stones are missing. The main temple reconstruction and two of the apit temples of the east side was completed in 1993, inaugurated by President Soeharto in February 20.

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The temple was severely damaged during the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake in 2006. The structural damage is significant and the central temple suffered the worst. Large pieces of debris were scattered over the ground and cracks between stone blocks were detected. To prevent the central temple from collapse, the metal frame structures were erected on four corners and attached to support the main temple. Although some weeks later in 2006 the site were re-opened for visitors, at that time the whole part of main temple remains off-limits for safety reasons. Today the metal frame has been removed and visitors could visit and enter the main temple.

Today, other than Borobudur and Mendut temple, the Sewu temple often host the annual Vesak ceremony.

The main temple measures 29 meters in diameter and soars up to 30 meters high. The ground plan of the main temple took a cross-shaped 20-sided polygon. On each of the four cardinal points of the main temple, there are four structures projected outward, each with its own stairs, entrances and rooms, crowned with stupas, thus forming a cross-like layout. All of the structures made are of the andesite stones.

The main temple have five rooms, one large garbhagriha in the center and four smaller rooms in each cardinal directions. These four rooms are all connected with outer corner galleries with balustrades bordered with rows of small stupas. From the findings during the reconstruction process, it was suggested that the original design of central sanctuary only consisted of a central roomed temple surrounded by four additional structures with open portals. Doorways were added later. The portals were narrowed to create door frames to attach wooden doors. Some of the holes to attach doors were still visible. The doorways join the temples together into one main building with five rooms.

The central chamber can be reached from the eastern room. The central chamber is larger than other rooms with a higher ceiling and taller roof. Now all the five rooms are empty. However the lotus carved stone pedestal in central chamber suggested that the temple once contains a large bronze Buddhist statue (possible the bronze statue of Manjusri), probably reaching 4 meters tall. The statue is missing, probably being looted for scrap metal over centuries. However another theory suggested that the main statue was probably constructed from several stone blocks coated with vajralepa plaster.

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